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Te Awa Tupua

Legal Recognition of Te Awa Tupua

In March 2017 legislation was passed in Parliament establishing a unique legal status for the Whanganui River, that of Te Awa Tupua.

At the heart of Ruruku Whakatupua – the Whanganui River Deed of Settlement - is the recognition of a new status for the River. The, Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act  2017 provides for the legal recognition of Te Awa Tupua as “a living and indivisible whole comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating its tributaries and all its physical and metaphysical elements”. 

Te Awa Tupua is also recognised at law as a legal person with corresponding rights, powers, duties and liabilities. This legislation is of international significance and represents possibly the first instance where a natural resource – in this case the Whanganui River – has been recognised as having its own legal

personality and rights. 

Those rights, enhance the relationship of all hapū and iwi of the Whanganui River catchment and guarantee the mana of each hapū and iwi to continue to speak for their interests. 

In doing so, the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 establishes a framework at law to support the innate values of the Whanganui River practised by Whanganui hapū and iwi for centuries.

Tupua Te Kawa now guide all actions and decision making to provide for the health and well-being of both the River and its peoples.  

The paradigm shift from merely speaking about the River to actively speaking to the River as a community is powered by this new status and the time-honoured values of Tupua Te Kawa.


Te Awa Tupua – the Whanganui River – is the longest navigable river in New Zealand. In its beauty and its unique scenery, it has become a major tourist attraction with leisurely river boat cruises and jet boats a regular feature alongside canoes, kayaks, river safaris and mountain biking.

From our earliest times, Te Awa Tupua has acted as a central artery for our numerous kāinga and pā sites, urupā and other wāhi tapu throughout the length of the River; our tribal homes, our cemeteries and our sacred spaces. The river formed the natural line of communication with the interior. In this one interconnected artery; tribal alliances were vital. It is likened to the rope that binds all the whānau together from the mountain to the sea; connecting our people with the rivers, mountains, lakes, forests and seas.

Our Awa Tupua has resided over our tribal boundaries since time immemorial. She has been the one stable presence in all our lives, from one generation to the next.

The river was our means of transport and food gathering, cleaning, recreation, socialising and for spiritual sustenance.

Our river is our healer, a highway and a protector. Our Awa has always been a place of ritual and karakia. Our bodies were strengthened in her waters, as were our minds and spirits by the prayers we offer up.

Te Awa Tupua is both teacher and classroom. We learnt the seasons, the weather, the tides, about volume and capacity and measurement and temperature. We learnt of habitat and species, food sources and supply.

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